A conference on data protection staged by ITN in the wake of the ‘right-to-be-forgotten’ ruling has heard that journalism needs “special protection.”
The broadcaster organised this week’s event following the decision by the European Court of Justice to allow people to request the removal of old material from search engine listings.
Information commissioner Christopher Graham, who oversees data protection law in the UK, sought to play down the ruling, saying the “sky was not falling in.”
But John Battle, head of compliance at ITN, said there needed to be a clear exemption for journalism.
He told the conference: “It is clear that for the past 20 years the law of data protection has been settled – it actually hasn’t produced many cases at all.
“The hard fact is that from 1995 onwards we have had the journalistic exemption – a clear journalism exemption, in section 32 in the Act.
“Recently we have now debate within Europe about changes with the data protection regulation, and at the moment we would not have that exemption – we have a broad balance between privacy and freedom of expression but there is nothing in there about journalism.
“I don’t think that is good for journalism – I think it is better to have a clear exemption rather than some form of general balance or wishy-washy scenario where you actually get the same scenario as everybody else. Journalism is special, and needs special protection.”
Earlier Mr Graham said: “There is a sort of Chicken Licken ‘The sky is falling, the sky is falling’ atmosphere around the so-called Right to be Forgotten.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are not in the Land of 1984. This is not Winston Smith re-writing backgrounders for The Times in the Ministry of Truth.”
He said it was important to realise that there was always going to be a balance to be struck between the right to enjoyment of privacy and home life and the right to freedom of expression.
In the Google case, he said, the European Court of Justice had established that a search engine – not only Google but any search engine – was processing data, and was a data controller.
Mr Graham said this meant that citizens had a right to request that items should be removed, not from the original source, but from the search engine, when that information clearly breached the data protection principles.
He added: “It seems to me perverse to say that we have, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, for example, the Protection of Freedoms Act, and the right for certain criminal offences, for example, to be disregarded after a time, the possibility of redemption, but to deny that on the internet.”